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Police Reject Boy Scouts' Ban on Gays

September 18, 1993|LESLIE EARNEST | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — In the latest challenge to the Boy Scouts of America's anti-homosexual stance, city officials said Friday that they are notifying the organization that the Police Department will not comply with the group's policy banning openly gay people from joining the Police Explorer program.

"We resent the fact that, through a clearly discriminatory policy, they are dictating to us who can or cannot be a member or adviser of the Explorer Scout group," Police Chief Neil J. Purcell Jr. said. "I like to have it out in the open and have it known we're not going to discriminate."

It is unclear whether the city will drop its Police Explorer program, whether the Boy Scouts of America will suspend its Laguna Beach activities or whether the dispute will end up in court. Purcell said the city--with a large gay population and Orange County's only law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation--may launch a legal battle.

"It's not a threat . . . but we're going to fight that point and possibly even go to court on it," he said. "I don't know where the chips are going to fall." Legal action would require a City Council vote.

City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said: "Anybody who wants to apply, whether heterosexual or homosexual, will be welcome into the Explorer program here in Laguna Beach."

But Kent Gibbs, director of Boy Scouts of America's Orange County Council in Costa Mesa, said Friday that Laguna Beach "must conform to the rules of the Boy Scouts in order for the program to continue."

"We're not going to pursue it as a court issue," Gibbs added. "If the city doesn't want to agree to the rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts, that's their prerogative."

Although there have been other challenges to the anti-gay policy, Gibbs said this is apparently the first time the policy has been criticized by a law enforcement agency in Orange County. "There has never been this contest before in this county that I'm aware of," he said.

Gibbs said the policy has been attacked in lawsuits "in many parts of the nation. All rulings have been in favor of the Boy Scouts." The organization's national spokesman, Richard Walker, said the Boy Scouts of America's policy banning gays is supported by most parents of Scouts.

"Parents overwhelmingly tell us that this is not a role model they want for their children and, accordingly, we do not permit avowed homosexuals as members or as leaders," Walker said.

Last year, the Boy Scouts of America terminated the El Cajon Police Department's Explorer program because the officer who coordinated that program revealed that he is gay.

Similar challenges to the policy have occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area. The position of Laguna Beach appears different from others because the city wants to continue the Explorer program--but using its own standards.

The Police Explorer program in Laguna Beach, which has about eight members, started in the early 1970s, and some members have joined the police force here.

The program is for people ages 14 to 21 who are interested in law enforcement careers. Explorers help with traffic control, search and rescue activities and providing security at high school events.

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